Thursday, December 21, 2006

Is It as Derivative as I Think, or am I Just Jealous?

First, I have to admit I haven't seen or read Eragon. So maybe I'm not qualified to write this post. But I have heard that the book and the movie are extremely derivative of Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. So I do have some preconceived notions about the whole thing. I picked up the book in the book store, and the first page started off with a description of an elf that put me off immediately. Why? Because it seemed to clichéd. I remember the elf having a proud, arrogant demeanor, which I suppose doesn't have to be clichéd if it's written properly. But it didn't strike me as any different than a dozen other similar descriptions I had read. But I wonder, am I giving it a fair shake? Maybe I'm just jealous that a 17 year old got a book published. And I think he wrote it when he was 15, didn't he? So I suppose he can be forgiven if it's a bit derivative. Though Mary Shelley proved that youth doesn't preclude the writing of a mature piece of work when she wrote Frankenstein at 19. So I'd like to hear from anyone who has an opinion on this, especially if you have read the books or seen the movie. Are the opinions I have heard fair, or should I at least give the books a shot?


Stewart Sternberg said...

Terry Brooks and his wretched Shannara series was derivative. Okay, all of you quit gaping..I said it. I said wretched and Brooks in the same sentence. Don't make me get out the baseball bat.

Want to speak derivative? Laurell Hamilton. Okay stop. Get back or I'll use this. That's right...I said Larell Hamilton. Her vampire stuff makes me yawn.

So..Eregon???? I am nervous as hell about it to say the least. Probably some kid who played D and D and had a rich and creative parent with connections.

All that negativity being said, let me now try and redeem myself. Success works. It gets repeated. Tolkein will be repeated. Look at the Richard Jordan series...thousands of pages which could have been whittled down to a few books; he's an author rewriting himself over and over again.

Hmmm....not doing a good job redeeming here am I? Last point then. I don't mind stuff that's derivative as long as it is well written and gives us characters to hold onto.

As one scholar said to me recently, there are only ten or twelve original plots. Themes...? So what the writer does is take those old tropes and does something with the character,striking a chord in the reader that can spark catharthis.

And screw my spelling..I'm typing fast and not caring. So those of you who are about to flame me for this comment, bring it. I'm feeling feisty....I can just hear the Terry Brooks, Laurell K. Hamilton whines starting up. The Buffyites will be the worst.

Angela/SciFiChick said...

I absolutely loved the book. The movie was decent, but didn't do it justice.

I knew ahead of time that he (Paolini) modeled his fantasy world after Tolkein and LeGuin so the similarities didn't bother me. I mean, it's fantasy. There's a lot of copying of ideas out there: elves, dragons, and the like.

It's a good story and fun to read. And I raved about it in my review.

SQT said...

Ah Stewart, leave it to you to throw it out there.

I read Terry Brooks years ago and liked him ok, now I can't read him. He repeats himself over and over and all the books are basically the same story. Yawn.

Robert Jordan and Terry Goodkind annoy the heck out of me with their neverending series. Wrap the damn things up already!

Laurell K. Hamilton is ok in small doses, but she gets old quick. I'd much rather read Kelley Armstrong for that kind of fiction.

Sci-fi Chick--
You're right in that there will always be ideas that pop up in all fantasy/sci-fi fiction. But I think it can be done originally. I like the way authors like Lynn Flewelling handle it and make it unique to their world. I don't like reading a book and feeling as if I read the same thing somewhere else. I think that's why I like Anne Bishop so much, her stuff at least doesn't appear to be ripping off anyone else. (like the blatant rip off of Robert Jordan by Terry Goodkind)

deslily said...

Oh my... well for whatever my 1 cent is worth. I read the shannara series long ago.. and although getting thru the first part of book one without talking outloud about how it was just like Tolkien, I kept reading.. mostly because (at the time) I was starved for a good character fantasy. Eventually, I liked the books regardless of the "ripoff".

I just bought Eregon but have yet to pick it up.. (working my way thru other things first) So I can't comment on the book, other than to say that anyone who ever even "thought" about writing should be jealous that not only did this "kid" get a book deal but a movie too! Hello? I doubt I will "hate" the book.. i just hope he has some characters that i can get strong feelings for.

My guess on the movie is just that they are trying to reel in some bucks on the heels of LOTR, seeing as they took notice that "some people" actually will go see a fantasy movie (duh).

Stewart Sternberg said...

I'm about to piss people off...damn if you rankle easy, skip this comment....

I'll wait...

still here?

Okay, here's my response to angela. I think it's great if Eregon is a good book. I'll wait for SQT to send me a personal email either thumbs up or thumbs down.....but here's my rant....and Picard, look away.

I remember when Star Trek came out. Suddenly the market was swimming with captains and their ships, with Scottish engineers, and faster than light travel. Suddenly Science Fiction was Star Trek..and Star Trek defined science fiction. The Trekkies wallowed in it.

But there was so much good science fiction going on. Alfred Bester. Phillip K. Dick. Isaac Asimov. etc..etc.. Yet, people wanted Trek...until??????Star Wars.

Then it was StarWars day and night, with empires that made no political sense and Force-derived philsophies that made me cry.

Tolkein is a wonderful author and he has built a rich, detailed world. However fantasy doesn't begin and end at Lord of the Rings or at the feet of Gygax's Dungeon's and Dragon Series. Vampire lore isn't just Rice and Hamilton.

Fantasy is delight. It's wonder. It's all manner of magical creature and the impossible and improbable coming together in a heady marriage bound only by the limits of the imagination.

So if someone is starting a novel by falling back on cliches and conventions in creating a thing known as an elf..then shame on him. If you want to world build, then world build.

I'm going in the corner now to take a time out. I need a candy bar.

Stewart Sternberg said...

A little information

The author,Christopher Paolini was homeschooled by his parents. His father apparently edited and helped him rewrite the book before publishing it through his own publishing company. They then marketed the hell out of it. In a quote attritubuted to the father: "We have a very acute understanding of marketing."They contacted hundreds of schools and bookstores, setting up readings. Dressed in medieval costume, Mr. Paolini put on a show, "Why Read? Why Write?"

Then apparently his father went around and dedicated himself to marketing the book, the fantasy aspect, the fact that his son was so young. According to one source:

"We went to places that never had an author," he said, "places hungry for this." Soon the house was filled with books for shipment. "We had reached the point where we couldn't handle it personally."

Then, according to this source...they met an author while flyfishing in Montana. That author hooked them up with Knopf Publishing.

Just some background. I wish I could dig up my dad and have him promote my work like that. Of course, if my dad did promote my work,I would assume an an undead guy would be promotion enough. Read Stewart's "Palpable Illusion" his dad is the living dead guy.

SQT said...

Man, the Eragon publicity machine is something isn't it?

That guy needs to go to work as an agent.

SQT said...

Oh and Stewart, don't worry about getting a candy bar, I like you cranky.

Crunchy Carpets said... rule!
Thanks for digging up the background on Eragon.. I was about to jump in with that.

Yah..where is MY dad to publish MY stuff.

And the Shannara Books...I like to think of them as Tolkien Lite.

I read the first two LOTR books when I was kid...9 or 10.

I found that later in my teens it was easier to read the Shannara books then pick up LOTR was like a warm up.

I think LOTR gets 'borrowed' from so much because it is a mix of traditional legends and mythology out was borrowed.

I have to say that during the movie I kept having the urge to throw the 6 sided dices and make sure my healing powers were up to snuff!

Stewart Sternberg said...

Is it my imagination or have comments slacked a little? I thought for sure we'd get a great and fiery dialogue going here. I mean, wasn't I inflammatory enough? What do I have to do, start talking about Smallville???? Do I need to start ripping on Shamalyadingdong? No wait, I already did that.

Angela/SciFiChick said...

Stealing ideas aside,
In the end, I think it's a great story.. inspiring. So, that's what I care about. And it held my attention throughout. For such a long book, that's hard to do!

SQT said...


Comments have been lagging. I know other blogs have been complaining of the same thing.

Alex, who commented a lot before mentioned on his blog that he's having computer problems and he's been busy at school. He hasn't been on his own blog much less anyone else's. And with the holidays I know a lot of people are traveling right now.

I bet things will pick up after the season is over.

Stewart Sternberg said...

I think you're right, SQT. Though things have actually been picking up on my blog. The holiday season for normal people is about communicating with loved ones. Me? It's about avoiding dysfunction.

One thing I've been nervous about before in posting here is when to post. I dont like throwing on a posting when someone has just posted...I like to think that each posting deserves a chance to ferment a bit.

Crunchy Carpets said...

ooooh Sorry Stewart..did I chuck mine up too just popped in my head!

Want controversy.
Eragon, to me anyway, seems to be a dad wondering if he can reproduce the publicity machine that was Harry experiment.

And yeah..I have had emails from commenters saying they couldn't or were having problems.

THAT is cheesing me off.

SQT said...

Yeah, blogger has been acting up a LOT lately. I have two accounts, on regular blogger and beta, just so I can comment on all blogs. I guess I'm more dedicated than most.

I have noticed a lot more activity on your blog lately Stewart. I wonder if it waxes and wanes. Mine got busy for awhile and now it's kind of stagnating. It makes me wonder if my posts aren't controvercial enough, even though Stewart has made a fair effort to stir the pot.

I think you're right CC on the whole Eragon thing. There have been tons of people who have tried to capitalize on the Harry Potter mania and he's just the latest comer. Though he has had more success than most.

Stewart Sternberg said...

In a couple months I will be creating my own website and may end up blogging through that. But no, I've never had any problem with commenting. Sure, google goes down from time to time, but I can live with that.

What I worry about is all the people posting, commenting, using server space with pictures, etc. Eventually, Google will have to do charge people for space. At least that's my guess.

As for posting Crunchy, were fine. However, I think we should consider some guideline..if suddenly all four people were posting, it could get a bit busy. But this is SQT's blog.

One thing to some point..perhaps there is a chat program or link that can be opened through the blog for people to communicate. Just a thought.

SQT said...

I don't worry too much about how quick blog posts go up. I do like a little time between them, but I notice that people will keep commenting on older threads if they want to. So it's no big deal.

I often wonder about the future of free blogging too. Right now the advertising seems to keep it afloat, but I don't know for how long. If it comes to paying for it, then I will definitely take some time to make sure it's a really good format. Right now it falls under the "beggars can't be choosers" heading.

Crunchy Carpets said...

I am starting up my own website for a community blogging is really cheap.

I think when I get that figured out I may see if I can switch CC over there too.

Just for the freedom.

SourDad said...

Are you jealous? I know I am, but I have heard second hand that Christopher really worked to sell copy when the book was just self-published. I heard this from Jack Driscoll author of How Like an Angel. He was the speaker at the Witness writer’s conference I attended last spring. Nice guy, really nice book. At dinner he told us about a workshop he did in Montana. Someone asked if a kid could take the workshop. At first he said, “no kids”, “But he’s written this fantasy book...” They convinced him this was no ordinary kid. And I said, “Are you talking about Christopher Paolini?” He was. Driscoll went on to tell us about how Christopher would go to county fairs in costume, cloak and sword, stand on milk crate and give readings to sell the book. Jack Driscoll was impressed with him especially considering his age. So no rich connected parent.

But what did I think of the books, the first two books of the trilogy have been published. First off: I have not read them, but I have listened to them on tape twice with my family on long car trips. My wife and son have also actually read them too (I’ll save the audio book argument for another post, but to me it counts). Ages 8 to 40 and we all loved them, and are looking forward to the third book.

Although I feel the second book shows Paolini’s development as a writer, but it wasn’t until after the movie that I really appreciated the complex and interconnected story that he had created. After the movie version, which stinks, my family and I were debating the script and what we’d have done with it. In trying to pick it apart we realized there’s not much that can be deleted to prune it down to a two hour movie without ruining the story in the latter books.

I don’t buy the criticism that it’s like LOTR, Star Wars and Harry Potter. It’s a fantasy book written by a kid, who actually reads, that has magic, swordplay and dragons. Of course it’s influenced by those sources, but I don’t think it’s just a rip off. Hey they are the new classics like it or not. Authors born before the war have been repeating the themes of the bible, the Greeks, and Shakespeare over and over and it still works, but to a lesser degree today, unfortunately.

Is it a derivative? Maybe, I am no connoisseur of the fantasy genera. It’s not heavy-duty adult fantasy, but I’ll give it this, through the second book politics come very much into play between different factions and characters in a way you would never expect from a book by a so-called kid. I found myself thinking, “Hey I get the politics in this story better than I did in LOTR.” I usually read straight fiction and books like Eragon, and Harry Potter are a nice break from the likes of Philip Roth, or John Steinbeck.

Wow hope that’s not too much babble.

Stewart Sternberg said...

According to the research, it was the father who did the marketing, devoting himself to selling the text, forming a LLC or whatever kind of company it is.

The father and mother were part of a cult, then left the cult and ended up in a lawsuit with the group.

The publishing industry is so difficult these days, what with the major corporations gobbling everything up.

Last year there was a vampire novel by a woman who had never written anything before. And remarkably, before the book was even published, it was on the NY Times bestseller list, and the publishers were marketing the hell out of it.

It's a strange and cruel industry.

Avery DeBow said...

I hope you all don't mind me jumping in unknown, here, but this topic is very close to home for me. I've read the first two Eragon books and I tend to live in a vacillating state of awe and indignant fits of, "How is this possible?" when it comes to the success of Paolini.

What I've come up with, finally, is a sort of resigned admiration. Yeah, he does mirror Tolkein too closely in some instances. And, yeah, I suspect he had more help than he'll ever admit in getting book one out there. But, I try to keep in mind that he was (and still kinda is) just a kid. The fact that his parents managed to do for him what many of us as of yet only dream to have done for us really can't be held against him. Only time will tell if he can become confident enough in his own storytelling to let go of the mimicking and create something truly original (once he gets book three out of the way, I guess).

That still leaves the question at hand. I'd say give it a try. There'll be some eye rolling at the elves and trolls (who very much echo the mannerisms of Tolkein's Legolas and Gimli), but there are some nice moments -- especially between Eragon and the dragon, Saphira. Besides, the enemy you know...

SQT said...

I tend to believe the story of the kid dressing up and reading from the book is either a story pushed by the publisher or something the father set up to get attention.

Nowadays the publicity machine seems more important than the quality of the book. Occult fiction is big right now, so I can see a publisher pushing a vampire book figuring it'll sell even if it isn't that good. Not long after Grisham came along it was all about legalese fiction. Pretty soon a new trend will come along and the Harry Potter wannabe's will try to jump on the next bandwagon.

SQT said...

So with Sci-fi Chick and Sourdad there are two definite votes in favor of the book. And Avery seems to give it some small recommendation.

It probably wouldn't be a waste to at least check it out. If I do I'll let the rest of you guys know what I think.

Stewart Sternberg said...

I've been thinking. A bad thing.

When I first saw Eragon's trailer, I said:"What the hell is this crap?" I had never heard of the book or the author before. I watched the trailer and shook my head, commenting: "Oh, this looks original. What the hell."

I thought to myself at the time: "With all the great fantasy stories still out their that could have spent money on, this is what they pick?"

Now, the book, while it may have been hot patooties for a while with a younger set, was an unknown with certain fans who consider themselves aficianados. Fox, which has been dying for a franchise like Warner Brothers' Harry Potter, or Sony's SpiderMan or James Bond, has been casting about for something like this to sink a hook into. Right now their current film franchise is Fantastic Four. Good luck.

Anyway, my thought, when all this was through playing through my head was...if they were going to make a fantasy, and they wanted to do a franchise, why not something with meat on it? Why not something such as

1. Jordan's "Wheel of Time" series...
2. Asprin's "Myth"'s a comedy and it could be fun
3. Norton's "Witch World"
4. Stephen King's "Dark Tower" series
5. McCaffrey's "Dragon Riders of Pern" ..hell...why be derivative when you can go to the source.

So you see my point? A corporation seeking to find a franchise goes to another corporation which is marketing a fantasy franchise which it is hoped, with a little fodder can become another Harry Potter.

Cynical. HELL YES. We're talking about Fox. We're talking about publishing giant Bertlesmann, owner of RCA, and during the thirties the publisher of Mein Kampf. Well, that was a cheap shot.

Anyway...that's my rant.

Crunchy Carpets said...

Stewart I think that all those titles yoj mentioned have been optioned....but nobody knows what to do with them or take them on.

This is the case with most books to film.

I am looking forward to The Golden Compass. I hope they don't mess that up.

SQT said...

Am I the only one who couldn't get into the Golden Compass? I tried, but it just doesn't do it for me.

Ormondroyd's Encyclopedia Esoterica said...

Speaking of the younger set, the most literate of my HS students were VERY disappointed in the Eragon movie, and said it wasn't as good as the book, so even the 16 year olds can see through it.
Ursula LeGuin said an interesting thing about kids and pop culture, from comics to Tarzan to whatever-- that garbage is good for kids, it's organic after all; it's plastic that's bad for them. (I think it's in "The Language of the Night : Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction", HIGHLY recommended.)
I agreed with most of what Stewart said in his rant above, and then some. Yeah, it's derivative, and yeah, we have a right to sneer, and I guess it's just the nature of the capitalist system that things get repackaged to make them more palatable for the masses. Like McDonald's hamburgers replacing local joints. Or Elvis getting the credit instead of Little Richard and the other black guys.
I may have missed it, but nobody's mentioned my favorite teen aged book after finishing Tolkein: GLORY ROAD, by Heinlein. Not only does he have lots of fun with the fantasy tropes, it's even dedicated to the Conan fan magazine that first published my cartoons.

Crunchy Carpets said...


My mom got me Eragon for Christmas!!!!

SQT said...

No way! That is so funny. I guess you can tell the rest of us what you think.

Asara Dragoness said...

So.. I read Eragon a while ago.. I was at the library looking for something I hadn't read yet, and it jumped off the juvenile fiction shelf at me 'cause it had a dragon on the cover (yes, I know I'm easy with that whole dragon thing). So I read it. And I honestly can tell you I don't remember another thing about it, except that I read it. I guess it was good, because I'd remember if I hated it..I see the movie coming out, and I think.. maybe I should read it again, but since I got so many other books for Christmas by authors I'm already loving, it probably won't happen. How's that for a lukewarm review, eh? :)

Anonymous said...

Actually, I thought the book was very well written. I've read both Eragon and Eldest and Christopher Paolini is quite a young talent and nice addition to the scifi/fantasy genre. The movie I didn't like so much. It strayed too far away from Chris' original story and left to many thing unsaid. ie. it dosn't ever mention that one of the key characters (Arya) is an elf. You just really don't know what she is. His cousin who also plays a vital role in Eldest the second book is a bit undone as well. I don't really know how Hollywood is going to connect these stories when the initial set up was so poorly done. They really butchered a great tale.